The Most Connect Man on Earth
In this episode of the Masters of Data podcast, I speak with Chris Dancy who became the “most connected man on earth” by wrangling the data for over 700 sensors, applications, and services that analyzed his life. It is undeniable that with all of the technology that surrounds us that we are more connected now than ever before, but in more ways than we likely realize. Chris is a well-known speaker, consultant and thought leader, who has written a book called Don’t Unplug talking about the idea of today’s technologies and how it impacts our daily living. In today’s world awash in data it makes sense to have a conversation with a guy who’s the most comfortable swimming in a sea of data. His insights are based on his own experience, are helpful for those looking to have a more realistic understanding of their digital fingerprint, yet also alarming to think about. As we discuss though, the point is not to incite fear, but rather raise awareness with the intention of enabling people to take back the reins of their digital lives as Chris did when he began to identify these sensors, categorize them and use them to show him more about himself than he knew before, an idea he now teaches others.
We begin our discussion by talking about what it means to have the title of “the most connected man on earth”. With such an interesting title, Chris shares the story of how it became his own. Though an accurate description, the title was a result of a series of misstatements by others, and as Chris jokes, a lot of algorithmic magic. In fact you can literally type “most connected” in a browser and he will be a top hit. While this is no doubt an entertaining story, the reality as he came to see, was that he had some 700 sensors, devices and applications watching his body, and recording him at any one point in time. But as Chris and I discuss, this idea of being surveilled, watched or tracked is not unique to Chris. In fact, this is something we all deal with to one extent or another. As Chris rightly notes, we don’t think about how connected we are and we only notice we’re connected when the interdependencies either fail or create conflict. Interestingly, the “connections” in our life that make things work often go unnoticed, like when things just “happen” for us and it seems almost like magic. We become so dependant on technology that our reliance on it is an afterthought until something stops working or there’s some sort of issue. While convenience is no doubt a result of our connectedness, the reality is that it comes with costs and difficulties. As we review, the first level of difficulty is battery, meaning that we have to walk around constantly in a state of plugging in. Another challenge is managing our connectivity. We become aware of when our body’s offline and when our home is offline. So while there’s the actual infrastructure of life with technology and data, there’s also the actual headache of managing that infrastructure as well.
A common theme in the discussion is also the problem of our dependence on technology and data and how it trains our habits as well as informs others how to treat us. One example Chris offers is how quickly someone responds to the email you sent as it dictates the importance of us in their life. Chris believes that this is a data problem, not a lifestyle problem. As such, by measuring things in a more continuous way and actually having that data at hand, you can actually make decisions to change how you approach life, how you approach your health, how you approach different things. While this is a very exciting time, as we review, it’s also a very dangerous time because eventually, the unseen feedback loops that drive behavior will just disappear. Chris believes that you don’t know why people are behaving different if they’re not staring at a screen because our connectivity dictates so much of our behavior.
While technologies’ impact on our behavior is alarming, another topic discussed is the difference between data privacy and data safety. While the notion of privacy is unrealistic given the number of times we’re tracked, the idea of data safety, on the other hand, is relevant and important. As Chris and I discuss, data safety is about not having your data used against you. For example, the weaponization of our behavior and the enablement of that by platform companies is a real privacy safety issue. Sadly, as Chris notes, we don’t usually have thoughtful dialogue around behavior until we want to hurt someone with it-then we pull out the screenshots and the data dumps and say “let’s go to court”. This is something they believe needs considerable attention. Related to this is the idea of information, versus knowledge, versus wisdom. The truth is that there’s a lot of data in the world, but there’s not always a lot of wisdom in the world. There is a connection between data and converting that into knowledge you can actually act on. While information is cold, hard facts, knowledge is your awareness of the facts. Wisdom though is what you do with the knowledge to help inform you of technologies’ impact on your life and taking steps to categorize it and use it to make your life better.
Outbound Links & Resources Mentioned
The Masters of Data Episode:
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Learn more about his book Don’t Unplug:
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